While andropause is a somewhat hazy diagnosis, there is a test for it. When a middle-aged man shows up with symptoms like irritability, fatigue and decreased libido, a doctor who suspects andropause will perform a blood testosterone test. Andropause is basically low testosterone. There are other changes in male sexual systems that occur with aging, like prostate enlargement (not to be confused with prostate cancer), but andropause is mostly the result of a gradual decrease in testosterone over many years.
What's considered low testosterone? In a 40-year-old man, 500 nanograms of testosterone per deciliter of blood is the mean; below 300 nanograms is considered too low [source: Gearon].
It may seem, then, that the simplest way to treat andropause is to add testosterone. And that treatment is becoming more common. Testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) is the male equivalent of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in women. There are a variety of ways to replace testosterone in men, including injecting it, applying a cream and taking it orally. The goal is to get testosterone back up to a normal level.
But it's not that simple. Just as HRT has been found to have serious side effects in women, like triggering certain types of breast cancer, TRT has dangers. The big one is that it can increase a man's chance of developing prostate cancer. It also turns off sperm production and has been associated with a higher occurrence of stroke.
For these reasons, most doctors don't jump to TRT as the first possible solution to the effects of andropause. Many will advise lifestyle changes, such as exercise, a healthier diet and the elimination of alcohol. Better overall health can help alleviate the symptoms of low testosterone. There are also some herbal remedies that some experts believe can help. Vitamins C and E and zinc can help increase testosterone production, while L-arginine has been associated with increasing libido.
As with many herbal treatments, there's not a whole lot of solid evidence that they do what they're supposed to, but in most cases, as long as they're approved by your doctor, they won't do any harm. And since TRT carries significant risks, it's worth a try to avoid that treatment until it's absolutely necessary.
For more information on "male menopause" and related topics, look over the links below.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- "Aging changes in the male reproductive system." MedlinePlus.http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/004017.htm
- Gearon, Christopher J. "Dealing with Male Menopause." Discovery Health.http://health.discovery.com/centers/mens/articles/andropause.html
- Kerner, Ian, Ph.D. "Male menopause? Yes, it's real." MSNBC.com.http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24297959/
- Male Menopause. WebMD.http://men.webmd.com/guide/male-menopause
- Male menopause: Myth or reality? MayoClinic.com.http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/male-menopause/MC00058